DENVER – Colorado’s largest supplier of public drinking water is in the middle of a debate about how much fluoride – if any – to put into its delivery system after the federal government announced new standards in April.
The discussion at Denver Water, which serves about 1 in 5 of Colorado’s 5 million residents, comes as other utilities in the state and the country debate fluoridation. In some cases, fluoridation opponents are pressuring them to do so, claiming that it damages teeth and bones.
Two weeks ago, the mountain community of Snowmass Village, about 165 miles west of Denver, decided to stop water fluoridation, joining a handful of other Colorado municipalities that have discontinued the practice in recent years.
“The ultimate goal is to stop this absolutely insane process,” said Paul Commett, a retired chemistry professor and director of the New York-based Fluoride Action Network. About 200 places worldwide have stopped putting fluoride in drinking water since 2010, according to the group.
The movement has caught the attention of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and his chief medical officer, Dr. Larry Wolk. They released a joint statement Wednesday, hours before the Denver Water Board met for public discussion.
“More than 70 years of research has proven that community water fluoridation is a safe, effective and inexpensive method of improving the oral health of all Coloradans,” the statement said.
Denver Water plans to decide Aug. 26 what to do about adding fluoride to water, a practice it has maintained since 1953.
Skepticism about fluoride has been around for years. Voters in Portland, Oregon, rejected a proposal to fluoridate water two years ago. In Sheridan, Wyoming, meanwhile, city officials this year decided to fluoridate water for the first time since 1953 when a referendum stopped the practice.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in April lowered its recommended dosage of fluoride in drinking water. It was the first change in standards since 1962 when the federal government suggested up to 1.2 milligrams per liter in cooler climates and 0.7 milligrams in warmer areas where people consume more water. The new directive puts the dose at 0.7 milligrams everywhere.
Part of the reason behind the change is that fluoride is more accessible now through toothpaste and other products, and children who are overexposed to it have gotten white splotches on their teeth.
Denver Water has been using the lower dose since 2011.
About 72 percent of Colorado residents consume fluoridated water through their drinking systems. Nationally, 75 percent of people have access to fluoridated water.
“One of the benefits of having fluoride in the water system is that everybody in the community can benefit from it regardless of their age, their income, their race, their gender, because all you have to do is drink the water and have access to that benefit,” said Katya Mauritson, Colorado’s dental director.
She said fluoride in water reduces cavities and leads to savings of about $61 per year in dental costs.
“We really do have a large number of children and adults that have untreated cavities that are preventable. We need water fluoridation in order to ensure that they stay healthy. Oral health does affect overall health,” Mauritson said.
Fluoride is a mineral found in the soil and water. Some areas naturally have the dosage recommended by the government, and in others, utilities add it.
Commett said that amounts to delivering medication without consent.
“There’s no reason to force it on people who don’t want it,” he said.